What Happens Next?

Yesterday, I began my day full of hope. The grassroots organization that I work my tail off at, and love dearly, Moms Clean Air Force, had just unveiled a billboard, and participated in a rally in Denver asking the Presidential Candidates which way they will choose. Will they lead us down a dirty energy path that allows coal, gas and oil polluters to continue their assault on our planet? Or will they lead us into a new era of energy-efficiency and renewables? 

Hopeful, huh?

But then I watched the debate go south. Fast. I could hardly watch. I was thrown off balance by these three words: "I love coal."  

The guy in the photo above is hopeful. But let's face it, no good can come from surf shooting. Could that be a waterproof camera? Was there such a thing in 1969?

How'd the debate look through your lens?

Photo: by John Grannis via The Selvedgeyard

5 Scientists (and Dr. Oz) Make Clean Air Sense

Scientists are not political big shots, or the rock stars of the environmental movement. They are concerned citizens like you and I who set out to systematically discover and document answers to pressing scientific queries. Doctors, nurses, researchers and professors devote their lives to making the world a better place for our families.

Earlier this year, more than 2,500 U.S. scientists sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to reject legislation that would gut the EPA of its protective safeguards and ignore the human toll that inaction would take on their citizens. Here is an excerpt from the Scientists’ Statement.

“We urge you (Congress) to oppose attacks on the Clean Air Act by respecting the scientific integrity of the EPA’s endangerment finding, and the agency’s authority to act based on this finding.”

We trust these smart folks with the health of our children. Scientists know that stripping the EPA of its ability to protect our children against environmental pollutants means more asthma attacks, more respiratory illnesses and disease, and more premature deaths. They are well aware that in the past 40 years, the Clean Air Act has prevented 400,000 premature deaths and hundreds of millions of cases of respiratory diseases, which is why…

1. The Lung Doctor - Dr. Albert A. Rizzo of the American Lung Association and a pulmonary and critical care physician, responded to the release of American Electric Power’s evaluation of the impact of Clean Air Act pollution protections:

“Continuing to belch hazardous pollutants into the air we breathe is not an acceptable business practice and neither is threatening rate hikes and electricity shortages when big polluters are asked to clean up their toxic emissions. The EPA’s proposed mercury and air toxics reduction rule will prevent 17,000 premature deaths and 120,000 asthma attacks each year. Yet, American Electric Power (AEP) is irresponsibly attempting to scare Americans away from demanding that their children no longer be exposed to dangerous levels of pollutants like mercury and arsenic, and other toxic pollutants. Clean Air Act protections do not mandate the closing of power plants but rather set standards that many energy companies have met using existing technologies to successfully rein in dangerous pollutants. The imperative to clean up is strong: these toxins are directly linked to grave health problems, from developmental complications in babies and young children, to asthma attacks and long-term lung complications. After more than two decades of delay, big polluters and their friends in Congress want further delays rather than investing in pollution cleanup.”

2. The Pediatrician - Dr. Jerome A. Paulson, for the American Academy of Pediatrics, testified last week at the Senate's Clean Air Act and Public Health hearing. The whole testimony is powerful, but here’s his statement on the effects of mercury on children:

“As a pediatrician who has cared for children suffering from the health impacts of air pollution, I am incredibly concerned about threats to clean air and the effect of air pollution on children’s health…The developing fetus and young children are disproportionately affected by methyl mercury exposure, because many aspects of development, particularly brain maturation, can be disturbed by the presence of methyl mercury. Minimizing mercury exposure is essential to optimal child health.”

3. The Science Professor Dr. Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University epidemiologist who led a New England Journal of Medicine study, found that efforts to reduce fine particle pollution from automobiles, diesel engines, steel mills and coal-fired power plants have added between four and eight months to the average American’s life expectancy:

“It’s stunning that the air pollution effect seems to be as robust as it is…However, the continuing problem demonstrates that more remains to be done, especially in cleaning up coal-fired power plants and existing diesel engines.”

4. The Heart Doctor - Dr. Robert Brook is the lead author of The American Heart Association (AHA) report stating that there is strong evidence that air pollution can clog arteries, and cause strokes and heart attacks.

“Particulate matter appears to directly increase risk by triggering events in susceptible individuals within hours to days of an increased level of exposure, even among those who otherwise may have been healthy for years.”

5. The Energy Scientist - Steve Clemmer, the Director of Energy Research for the 
Union of Concerned Scientists claims that limiting coal, gas and nuclear power, and boosting the renewable energy practices of wind and solar, could meet 27% of America’s electricity needs by 2030:

“Unlike natural gas, coal or nuclear plants, wind and solar plants don’t produce air or water pollution, global warming emissions or waste products, and use much less water.”

Oh, there is a rock star scientist…and he knows Oprah!

Dr. Oz says:

“It’s sobering news that one in five people still live in communities with lethal levels of smog and particulate pollution — the toxic soup of chemicals, metals, acids, ash and soot that triggers asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes and early deaths. Makes you want to close the windows, bar the door and stay home.”

The science proves that that Clean Air Act is the bedrock that protects our children from pollution that otherwise would make their lives shorter or less healthy. For the sake of our kids, does it make sense to debunk and diminish the warnings of scientists?

Here’s how to speak up…or forever hold your breath:

Join the Moms Clean Air Force and help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven't already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thanks!

Credit: Anne Burgess for the New York Times

Renewable Energy: Table Talk With T and Me

Dinnertime is always a savory affair in my nest. My husband, Ted is truly an outstanding cook. His food is seasoned to perfection, served in an appealing manner, and absolutely scrumptious. Savory in all the best ways. Ted's meals set the tone for family dinnertime dynamics that follow suit. After reading Laurie David’s inspiring, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book, The Family Dinner, I felt validated that we have embraced a ritual that helped raise our amazing kids. That’s why I’m dishing up some insight into my family’s eco-driven conversations.

As Laurie says in her book…“Dinner Spreads Love”

From the time my kids were old enough to cease throwing Fruitios from highchairs, we engaged them in all types of dinnertime banter. The topics were age appropriate, but like other couples that work in similar professions, we get caught up in what our kids affectionately call our “stuff.” Ted is an environmental planner, and I’m an environmental writer. We’re almost always on the same page – it’s the approach that sometimes gets us in trouble.

Ted passionately looks at the big picture and long-term consequences. I passionately focus on day-to-day green actions. He puts together documents that are big enough to sit on. I write snippets for blogs that you could tuck into your pocket.

What’s eating us?

Before I invite you to join us around the table, let me disclose some marital insight: I think Ted is a tad long-winded (I’m being nice here). If you asked him, he would probably say I oversimplify the issues. I must also mention again, that my nest is mostly empty, which leaves Ted and I sharing our dinner (and wine) without kid meditation to reign us in.

(My kids are eye-rolling and nodding their heads in agreement.)

Table Talk

It was excessively hot in the Northeast last week, and Ted announced Sunday that he was not cooking…

Ted: We’ll eat whatever you picked up at the farmer’s market.

Ronnie: OK, I’m cool with – fiddleheads, ramps, shitakes, arugula, sugar snaps, garlic scapes, and whatever else the kids wouldn’t have eaten. (See, empty nests are not as bad as they are cracked up to be.)

The mere mention of not lighting up the gas stove brings out the eco-geekiness in me and I drop an energy issue bomb…

R: What happened to renewable energy? I thought solar, wind, and geothermal were going to make a clean sweep over the power companies and offer homeowners real energy solutions for the future. Was that just a fantasy?

T: If we don’t kick our fossil fuel habit, our children will pay the price of our excess. Diminishing oil reserves and worldwide demand will price us out of the market, and climate change will force some out of their homes. There may be 30 to 50 years of oil left, and loads of coal, but burning 100,000 years of “buried sunshine” each year has created an imbalance in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere - the main cause of global warming. Lest not forget, natural gas that needs to be extracted by fracking - that is known to contaminate wells and pollute the air. The sun is estimated to continue to shine for at least 5 billion more years. This is the time to harness the sun and capture the wind. It’s even getting more affordable. We should behave responsibly to our kids and keep exploring alternatives.

R: Doesn’t the world already employ renewable energy practices?

T: Right now only about 13% of the world's energy is renewable.

How does he always have those statistics right at his fingertips? Here comes my best shot...

R: I read in Treehugger (beloved blog) that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world can get 80% of its power from renewable sources by 2050. The report claims that if a "full range of renewable technologies were deployed," we could attain this truly clean power goal in under 40 years. Wow, this sounds responsible, right?

T: Yeah, I read that too. The Rocky Mountain Institute goes even further. They say that it would be profitable to displace oil completely over the next few decades. By 2025, the annual economic benefit of that displacement would be $130 billion. Investing now in renewable energy can also help poor countries develop, particularly where large numbers of people lack access to an electricity grid.

R: Just think of what an awesome deal clean energy production would be in terms of health benefits and economic savings. Power the world…Save the poor...Clean air for all!

T: Not so fast. There's a minor glitch: our elected public officials have to enact policies that promote green power…and people need to be given the tools to adopt it. The US is the world's biggest energy consumer, and our politicians are not on the same page. Go tell your Moms Clean Air Force that while they are asking their congressmen to clean up the air, to also tell their local elected officials they can do more. I work with non-partisan planning boards. New development should be subject to smart growth principles. Even while that’s happening, conservation pays. Energy-efficiency is still the cheapest form of energy available today. It is a prerequisite to investing in renewables. Before we can even envision a world powered by wind and sun, we’ve got to remember that conservation and reducing consumption across the board should be our first priority.

R: So glad I share these savory dinner conversations with you. Happy Father’s Day, Ted…and thanks for joining the Moms Clean Air Force.

Signs Of The Times

Sometimes I feel like I grew up on the ledge – a ledge that was propelled into action by the signs of the times. With the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the Women's Movement simmering to a boiling point. It was ALL personal. It was ALL political.


In many ways, I stopped jumping off ledges when I had kids. I’m still easily riled up, but politics moved to the back burner. The choices changed from demanding equal pay and peace on earth, to whether or not to use cloth diapers, and what school to send the kids to. Believe me, there were many worthy ledges to jump off of, but most were personal – kids, jobs, house. Politically, the most ledgework I could muster up was to rant to my family and vote with my conscience.

My 20-something year old children are also ledge-leaning. If I'm willing to drink a little beer and hum along with the guitar into the wee morning hours, I can engage them in a lively discussion about eco-energy issues like, dirty coal, fracking, mercury testing, and voting to keep the Clean Air Act from being rendered impotent.

Signs Of The Times

"Yes, yes, mom – We'll vote!" They will, but they are worried about another "eco" –  a sign of their times. Their minds are filled with the economics of finding and securing jobs. So many recent college graduates are buried under this weight.

Growing up in the '60’s and '70's, we jumped off ledges. The work got done. Attitudes changed. The results were fair and everlasting, or so we thought...


Most people were so outraged by prejudice and segregation that laws got changed. Currently, on the clean air front, more non-white children live with the highest concentrations of air pollution. 60% of Latino children are more likely to suffer from asthma and other environmental illnesses…and three times as likely to die of asthma? How fair is that?

Most people were so outraged about the inequality of women that laws got changed. I couldn't be more elated that women are in the political arena. We fought hard for political equality, but not all female politicians have their priorities straight. Just last week, Sarah Palin proudly announced to a group of veterans and TV cameras, “I love that smell of the emissions.” It is unfathomable to me that a mom of 5 could debunk the scientific knowledge that greenhouse gas emissions have increased by a record amount last year, leaving us with the highest carbon output in history. How fair is that?

Most people were so outraged about an unjust war that they ended it. Now our wars are based on energy politics. Some politicians, backed by energy corporations have much to lose and little to gain from leading us into a truly clean energy revolution. Instead of looking to, and legislating for squeaky clean renewable energy, some politicians are putting the Clean Air Act on the chopping block to protect their "assets." How fair is that?


Our kids are teeter-tottering on a dangerous ledge. Are you ready to do a little ledgework for your kids and help keep the air clean for our kids to breathe? Those of you with young children will have to jump off the ledge for them. Those of us with older children will need to give them a hefty nudge because their generation is rightfully distracted. Here’s what you can do to help save the Clean Air Act.

It will be a sign of “good” times when our kids thank us by texting, “Hey Mom - Peace, Love and Clean Air.”

Photo credit: Ted Fink  Drawing: Liza Donnelly